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Muslims pilgrims begin downsized Hajj amid pandemic

Hajj – the fifth pillar of Islam
MAKKAH: Muslim pilgrims begin the annual Hajj that has been dramatically downsized this year as Saudi Arabia strives to prevent a coronavirus outbreak during the pilgrimage.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime and is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
This year only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in the ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world that attended last year.
“There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but (downsizing) is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic,” said Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi, Saudi Arabia’s director of public security.
Pilgrims will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in the holy city of Makkah and its surroundings.
Those selected to take part in the hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began arriving into Makkah at the weekend.
State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported being given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts. Many workers clutching brooms and disinfectant were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba.

READ MORE: First batch of Hajj pilgrims start arriving in Saudi Arabia

Hajj authorities have cordoned off the Kaaba this year and pilgrims will not be allowed to touch it to limit the chances of infection. They also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to pilgrims while the foreign press is barred this year.
Saudi authorities initially said only around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom would be permitted for the Hajj, but local media reports say as many as 10,000 will be allowed to take part.
Around 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, while the rest will be Saudi citizens. All worshippers were required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Makkah and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage.
They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, prayer rug and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims, according to a hajj ministry programme document.
The Hajj ministry said non-Saudi residents of the kingdom from around 160 countries competed in the online selection process but it did not say how many people applied.
Some disappointed applicants have complained that the government-run scheme was not clearly outlined and that no reason was given for their rejection.
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